The Asian Conference of Criminal and Operations Psychology – Speech by Mr Desmond Lee, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 13 July 2016

Friends from Singapore and around the world, welcome to the third Asian Conference of Criminal and Operations Psychology (ACCOP). It is my pleasure to join all of you here today at this conference.


2     I hope to share with you the importance of this conference. The work that the Home Team does is interrelated and intertwined because it recognises that the Home Team is about people and about taking care of the people who work in the Home Team. Law and order and policing work sounds hard, rough at the edges and stern, but it is about people. It is a social science, it is about governance, and knowing about people you work with and work for. This makes the criminal justice system, policing and makes the work of the Home Team human, grounded, practical and compassionate. So indeed, this conference offers an excellent opportunity, for members of the Criminal and Operations psychology community to network, and exchange ideas along those lines.


3     The last ACCOP in 2013 was a fruitful one. There were 288 participants from 11 countries, exchanging ideas on how psychology could achieve operational success. I just attended the World City Summit. There were 20,000 people talking about the future of cities, the future of active citizenry, the future of water, and how cities manage what they throw away. Bringing people together in one place creates magic, only if you seize opportunities to network, reach out to fellow practitioners. So the magic is not onstage, it is amongst all of you.


4     This year, we have more than 300 participants who have gathered here, to share their experiences and best practices. This shows the growing recognition worldwide, that the application of psychology and behavioural science have become integral to law enforcement operations.   


5     We also have with us[1], representatives from the private sector. I am very glad you are here. The private sector has been applying behavioural science principles for decades to shape and influence consumer choices. So when you go into the supermarket, somehow the most expensive product is eye-level. We have much to learn from the private sector, and we welcome this valuable opportunity to do so.


6     This year's ACCOP theme ("Emerging Trends in Crime, Safety and Security: The role of Behavioural Sciences") – is especially apt, given the wide range of complex challenges we face in our security landscape. From Terrorism to Cybercrime, media headlines throughout the world are often dominated by events that threaten our sense of safety and security. Terrorist organizations continue to threaten global security through directing or inspiring ISIS-affiliates around the world.


Role of Psychology in Counter-Terrorism Efforts


7     We are living in dangerous times. To keep our people secure, our security and law enforcement agencies have to maintain a constant high state of vigilance. Applying psychology and behavioural science principles can optimise our security and law enforcement operations, and maximise our scarce resources, especially people.


8     Within the Home Team agencies, our use of psychology and behavioural science principles are centred on three key strategies: first, enhancing our Mindware, second, Heartware and thirdly, Comm-ware. I will briefly articulate what I just talked about.


9     First, enhancing our officers' Mindware by equipping them with the necessary skills to optimise their job performance. In short, it is a recognition of strengthening, supporting and encouraging people who work in the front line everyday. "Mindware" is a widely recognised use of behavioural science and psychology in security and law enforcement operations, and this was discussed extensively during the last ACCOP in 2013. Recognising that our officers' work is increasingly complex and challenging, we see the need to equip our officers with the right tools to perform their job well. Singapore's law enforcement agencies have been leveraging on "mindware", to better understand how potential offenders and our own officers, think, behave and act. This has helped us in the profiling of persons and the early detection of threats to Singapore.


10     For instance, the Home Team Behavioural Science Centre (HTBSC) is working on an Online Violent Extremism Screening Tool, which will help officers to identify early signs of individuals who may be engaging in online violent extremism, so that interventions can be prioritised for these high-risk persons. 


11     The HTBSC and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority are also working on a Security Screening Questionnaire, which enhances the interview protocols used by our immigration officers, to better detect persons of risk at our borders, and if necessary, protect Singaporeans by refusing such persons entry into our country.


12     Second, focusing on our officers' heartware – picking, grooming and training the right people to do the job and supporting them holistically. This will ensure that we attract, develop and retain good people right at the heart of the Home Team.  Persons whose hearts are with the job, have the right motivation and beliefs, and are more likely to be good leaders. They will inspire the team, lead them through complex challenges and crises. We leverage on psychological tools to identify potential leaders. We put them through a battery of psychometric tests, interviews, assessment centres and leadership training programmes. Among other qualities, we assess their analytical abilities, their ability to collaborate and influence others as a leader.


13     We also rely on psychological tools to maximise the potential in our leaders. We developed the Home Team Command Leadership Framework to hone and enhance our leaders' leadership capabilities, especially during crisis situations. They are put through a series of milestone developmental courses, such as a six-week long Home Team Senior Command and Staff Course.


14     With an increasingly challenging operating environment, we must also prepare all our officers to cope with intense and prolonged deployments during crises. We need to enhance and support their resilience and mental fortitude. For example, we have developed an Enhancement of Resilience-Building Training Package for Recruits in the Police and Civil Defence Force. Given that a large proportion of our officers in the Police and Civil Defence Force are national servicemen, we think it is important to have a dedicated programme to help them cope with national service, given their tender age. Our Home Team psychologists have created specialised training packages to help facilitate their adaptation to life in uniform, and their Police and Civil Defence work. The intent is to build a rewarding and motivating experience for the national servicemen, and encourage them to contribute towards the success of the Police and Civil Defence Force.


15     I move on to the third pillar, which is Comm-ware (Community).We have spoken about how psychology can help enhance the effectiveness of Home Team officers in responding to crises, such as a terrorist attack. But how the community prepares and responds to crises is just as crucial. It is not just about the Home Team, but the entire community. Each person must know what to do, where to go, what to look out for and how to help others, in order to minimise casualties and damage. In the aftermath of an attack, it is equally important that Singaporeans overcome adversity together as one. For those who come from other parts of the world, you will see that we are a melting pot of colours, cultures and languages. We need all that diversity and vibrancy, and our different values, beliefs, systems, cultures and religions. It is extremely important to secure the resilience and unity of everyone living on this island. Terrorism is not just about inflicting casualties, or making headlines. It is about the psychological impact that it seeks to achieve on the fabric of the community.


16     Many of us were struck by what happened in Paris, in the face of the attacks in November last year. Residents of Boston had also reacted admirably, under terrible circumstances, after the 2013 bombings. Emergency and medical response was effective. Within a week, Boston had regained normalcy. The streets reopened, businesses continued their operations. After the recent devastating attack on Istanbul airport last month, it was re-opened to travellers within five hours. President Erdogan proclaimed that the terror attack on Istanbul's airport "will not divide or split our country", adding that "no terrorist organization will come between what we are".


17     To strengthen resilience among Singaporeans in an increasingly crisis-prone world, our Home Team psychologists have developed a set of training materials as part of our National Resilience Project. Minister for Home Affairs and Law, Mr K Shanmugam, also announced in March that we will start the SG Secure national movement, which is a call to action for all Singaporeans to enhance their readiness for potential terrorist attacks. To steel them, guide them, provide them with what is necessary in terms of skills and mental preparedness, to protect themselves, their families, friends, colleagues, neighbours and community and to keep this island as one.


18     One of the movement's initiatives is to embed psychological support within the grassroots and communities. This will aid emergency preparedness efforts by the Police and Civil Defence Force, and allow us to forge a more prepared citizenry.


19     The deployment of psychology and behavioural sciences in law enforcement and security work is no longer a choice. It is a must. It enhances our effectiveness and serves as a force multiplier. That said, our law enforcement and security agencies are unable to respond and deal with terrorist attacks alone. We need the community to play a part. Leveraging on psychology can help to build resiliency within the community. It will help the community to respond in the event of an attack and recover quickly, the day after an attack. 


20     Over the next two days, ACCOP will provide a platform to share best practices and cutting-edge thought leadership on how the use of psychology can enhance our work in safety and security. I hope that this conference will be fruitful for you, and you are able to bring back with you ideas that will help to build a safer and secure environment for your fellow citizens. Thank you.


[1] Past years' ACCOPs (in 2010 and 2013) did not involve reps from the private sector. They only involved participants from law enforcement agencies, psychologist practitioners and government. 


Managing Security Threats